Hachette and Amazon Feud Over Book Sales

Monday, June 02, 2014

One of the big five publishing companies, Hachette, is embroiled in a contract dispute with Amazon, which means lots of books aren't available on the e-commerce giant's site. Bestselling authors like James Patterson are weighing in. Joe Nocera, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, explains each side's position, what one publishing company's dispute has to do with book sales as a whole and what Amazon's control over the market means for the future of books and ideas.


Joe Nocera

Comments [27]

oleg from ninety-five percent

William from Manhattan
I have been boycotting amazon for years, glad to hear you are on board with the idea that these guys are a real threat to cities and malls and independent stores anywhere.
The fight with amazon is over so much more than price.
remember, amazon will aggressively undercut anyone's price and take a loss in the interim knowing their competitors cannot take the same losses in their books!
It's how amazon got to guy out diapers.com.
amazon can sustain millions in losses to its books, as long as they drive their competitors out of business in the long run and get to fix amazon-preferred (not necessarily consumer-friendly prices) prices in the long run.
it's unreal, and we are all to blame if we continue shopping for cheap cheap cheap discounted "stuff" on their site.
it will become a race to the bottom driving jobs down (who could afford to compete with a giant), redistributing wealth to the top and not allowing money to spread among the middle or bottom classes. It's capitalism run wild and free and ugly.

Here is but one diapers.com eulogy:

among the +40 companies amazon owns:
a2z, A9.com, Amazon Web Services, Alexa Internet, Audible.com, Digital Photography Review, Goodreads, Internet Movie Database, Junglee.com, Zappos, diapers.com, soap.com

Only the 1-5% top wealthy people in the world want us to shop there.

Jun. 02 2014 08:26 PM
William from Manhattan

I'm two weeks into boycotting Amazon and don't miss them at all. So far, I've diverted about $1K from Amazon by ordering directly from the manufacturer, and I can testify, Amazon isn't any cheaper or more convenient. Use Amazon's free database to comparison shop, then order direct from the company that actually makes the product. Message to Bezos - bullies never win.

Jun. 02 2014 08:03 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Lee from Greenpoint

Nope, I've got plenty of time. So how was I beat and at what, precisely? I know you're just a kid but in the real world just saying something doesn't make it so. Maybe you can explain this whole "circular argument" to me or will you just disappear into the web ether like your other handle "AlexMcDe" did when I pointed out his pseudo intellectual twaddle?

Jun. 02 2014 02:40 PM
Lee from Greenpoint

Mr. Bad, you should have quit while you were behind, dude. Guy's got you beat hands down. Don't you have somewhere to be?

Jun. 02 2014 02:20 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ AlexMcDe

The passing of literary fiction is hardly a controversial topic, MJ covered it nicely:


When you accuse me of being "defensive" and it's actually you who is obviously "defensive" it is something else which is not a "circular argument", it is "irony".

When you're "e-published" please post a link to your e-penny jar and I'll be sure to toss you a few coppers for the pleasure of reading your little opus about how someone made you feel bad on that day and how you will never forget it.

Jun. 02 2014 12:39 PM

Joyce, FYI you're on WNYC on a local show that NPR does NOT carry outside the NY area.

Jun. 02 2014 12:01 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ AlexMcDe

Yes, the sad fate of literary fiction is somehow tied to my self image and persona. Brilliant insight - no doubt you're an unemployable "author" without a book deal? Pobrecite!

Now how about that "circular argument"? Is that just something you toss out in class and hope nobody calls you on it? 'Cause I'm getting that feeling. Not real bright are you? Hint: Pretending to be smart just makes you look even worse.

Jun. 02 2014 12:01 PM
Lenore from Manhattan

Not part of this topic, but worth considering: the stories about the horrendous working conditions of those who staff the warehouses and get those books to the customers /readers so swiftly.

Jun. 02 2014 11:48 AM

Gee, Mr. Bad, honey, I can't imagine what *you'd* have to feel defensive about. Keep checking; I'm sure your anxiety about gender and masculinity will abate a bit, by and by.

Jun. 02 2014 11:46 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ AlexMcDe

What would I have to feel "defensive" about? And what is "circular" about my argument? Keep checking I'm sure they will drop soon kid...

Jun. 02 2014 11:30 AM

Amazon has the right to charge suppliers for access to their sandbox. That's not Mafia, that's the Internet. The Apple Store which extracts 30% for access to their sandbox is really no better. Suppliers have to deal with the 'buy or build' costs. The danger with proprietary net-based enterprises is that they make consumers think that they are the only places to shop. They are not. Hachette could - and probably does - run its own ecommerce venue but feels they MUST also be on Amazon in order to make a complete market. Too bad for them.

Sites like these are destructive to the concept of a common marketplace. By not collecting sales taxes, they are also destructive to many state budgets. We haven't matured enough to deal with that problem either.

If the Amazon model forces publishers to ditch certain aspects of their publishing process, the quality of the end-product will drop. Some of the dropped aspects will be sorely missed but by no one more than the person whose job it was to do.

[My own experience is that while vastly more convenient, ebooks are not as well edited as their paper equivalents. Typos, ineffective pictures and graphics, impossible to follow footnotes...]


...and you think your typing about anti-trusts lawsuits is relevant to the topic how?

Jun. 02 2014 11:17 AM

Mr. "Bad": Defensive much? Your circular arguments are unconvincing. Best remedy: read (literature) more!

Jun. 02 2014 11:13 AM

Mr. "Bad": Defensive much? Your circular arguments are unconvincing. Best remedy: read (literarature) more!

Jun. 02 2014 11:09 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Talk about shuffling deck chairs on the titanic... there is no real demand for "literary" fiction any longer, that is not the fault of Amazon or the publishing industry (which is on life support anyways). I'm not happy about that development but it's where our culture is going and has been for sometime. There will always be a market for trashy paperbacks at airport convenience stores and in the Walmart magazine section. That's the future of publishing, just deal with it and stop whining about "authors" and what they're entitled to it's just pathetic and sad.

Jun. 02 2014 10:57 AM

What a joke--editors? Most editors are not very able writers or thinkers. If you're presenting yourself as a writer and need much help at all from an editor--guess what? You're not a writer. Yes, that's right--if you've got a memoir and can't handle most of the primary editorial choices yourself, you should be co-authoring at the very least. Choose a medium in which you're competent; do an audio memoir. Writing is a medium of artistic expression. Does everyone with a notable story to tell expect to make a film or painting "about" it?

Jun. 02 2014 10:52 AM

What a joke--editors? Most editors are not very able writers or thinkers. If you're presenting yourself as a writer and need much help at all from an editor--guess what? You're not a writer. Yes, that's right--if you've got a memoir and can't handle most of the primary editorial choices yourself, you should be co-authoring at the very least. Choose a medium in which you're competent; do an audio memoir. Writing is a medium of artistic expression. Does everyone with a notable story to tell expect to make a film or painting "about" it.

Jun. 02 2014 10:50 AM

Also, cutting out the middle party--where the middle party is the kind of anti-literary corporation that nearly every prominent publishing corporation is-- is a start. As Brian himself just articulated: "What it breaks up is this kind of power juggernaut in the industry itself that promotes certain works and locks out others..They're trying to make money the best way they can...It..would create more openings."

Jun. 02 2014 10:47 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Amazon's "take" on Marketplace sales is unpredictable and LARGE. They would probably take 90% on Hachette. They took 60% on one of my smallish sales. I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon but few books. I have a Nook and a refurbished Kinkle (at $59). I like e-books travel, but buy my books primarily at half.com -- I'm reading a lot of Penelope Lively thee days (thank you, Terry Gross) and my book club selections and I've bought about 14 of Lively books, for 75 cents each, in excellent condition. I try to buy more than one book (my record is 6) from the same seller. -- this gives me a good discount on shipping. (BTW, I've read about 5 P. Lively books and have several waiting in line.)
I'd be disappointed if I "have to" boycott Amazon but I will do it if they continue to act like Wal-Mart.
Sorry this is so long. I don't have time to write a short post. ;-)

Jun. 02 2014 10:46 AM
hitch from nyc

Did anyone hear Brian L. inject his pro-amazon bias into this conversation..."a win for amazon is a win for consumers" - really brian?

apparently, we're not just talking the death of the small unknown author's book - it's the death of journalism on wnyc.

Jun. 02 2014 10:44 AM

Brian, can we pause for a moment and consider an absurdity? *James Patterson*--James Patterson?-- and his cronies are concerned about the fate of literature? Further, it's painfully clear that the publishing corporations, who are themselves largely responsible for the demise of *actual* literature through their selling out, cronyism and brand-ism--want one thing only: to retain their unfairly gotten, destructive-to-literature market share!

Jun. 02 2014 10:44 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Unquestionably the development of direct marketing to consumers, whether it was through catalogs, mail order, direct TV sales, and now the internet, has always posed a challenge to middlemen of every kind. And yet ingenious and savvy middlemen have always managed to survive somehow.

Jun. 02 2014 10:43 AM
Mary from Westchester

Small publishers have no chance with Amazon to start with because, among other reasons, Amazon works through distributors like Baker & Taylor - a company mutilated by being owned by private equity firms. Joe Nocera might know about this channel and how it can hurt new writers/small publishers.

Jun. 02 2014 10:41 AM


Weeks ago, I emailed you a series of stories about the rapid decline of bookstores in NY. When are you going to cover this development? It's just as important to the future of publishing industry as is the tactics of Amazon.

Jun. 02 2014 10:38 AM
Joyce from NYC

Wow -- that's amazing from anon from NYC ---

anon, tell us, do you favor Amazon's power to crush any publisher -- to ultimately control what we read?

Where, exactly, do you stand on this issue?

Jun. 02 2014 10:37 AM
anon from NYC

Thanks for the predictable screed, Martin/Joyce

Jun. 02 2014 10:31 AM
Hitch from nyc

I find it curious that wnyc, a station that purports to be unbiased in its coverage of news, has directly linked to joe nocera's glowing article of amazon, without linking to any ANY website that published James Patterson's very negative words for amazon.

I read a far better article on The Atlantic by Jeremy Greenfield:

you see...it doesn't always have to be nyt guests, you can invite other voices outside of the nytimes.

Jun. 02 2014 10:31 AM
Joyce from NYC

Let’s review:

The government crushed IBM with anti-trust – it has never been the same.

The government crushed Microsoft with anti-trust – it has never been the same.

Now the government has taken over Apple – it gets to over see everything in Apples App Store. Face it, Apple is now over.

Hmmmm wonder how that happened – was it because Amazon hired the right lobbyists and Apple ignored Washington??? Nooooo, that could never be! (Ooops, I seem to recall that was Microsoft’s problem – they thought they could survive by making products people wanted, they didn’t realize that you succeed in business by buying off Washington.)

The government now controls the:
- Health industry
- News – it want to put monitors in newsrooms
- Education – Common Core, and now colleges by making them prove their students get jobs
- And now 41 Democratic Senators want to repeal the First Amendment – (Editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal – oops, sorry, not supposed to mention WSJ or Fox on NPR.)

Jun. 02 2014 10:14 AM

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